All For 1 on the 4x1

March 25, 2016

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Editor’s Note: The following first appeared in the University of Iowa’s Hawk Talk Daily, an e-newsletter that offers a daily look at the Iowa Hawkeyes, delivered free each morning to thousands of fans of the Hawkeyes worldwide. To receive daily news from the Iowa Hawkeyes, sign up HERE.


IOWA CITY, IowaLake Kwaza may run the first leg, but there is more than one leading lady on the University of Iowa women’s 400-meter relay.

The Hawkeyes sprint group boasts a deep cast of supporting characters, including All-Americans Kwaza, Brittany Brown, Briana Guillory, Elexis Guster, Alexis Hernandez, and MonTayla Holder.


With that kind of ensemble, it’s no surprise the team broke the school record in the opening race of the outdoor season March 19 in Tempe, Arizona. Their time of 44.04 bested the previous mark by .47 seconds and ranks second in the nation.

It marked the third time any combination of those six women broke a record that had stood for two decades, but according to Kwaza, it won’t likely be the last.

“This team is a lot different than past teams,” said Kwaza, who has run the lead leg on the three fastest relays in school history. “We’re coming into every race prepared. We’re ready. We should run fast. It’s expected. It’s a different team atmosphere.”

This team is different, but not by much. The 400-meter relay school record stood for 20 years before Kwaza, Guster, Hernandez, and Brown nipped it by .12 seconds to win a Drake Relays flag in 2014.

The same quartet, minus Hernandez, but plus Holder, later bested the 20-year-old record in a gold medal performance at the 2014 Big Ten Championships.

This season, the changes in personnel are minuscule compared to 2014. Only the freshman Guillory, who ran the third leg last weekend, is new to the record-breaking scene.

The biggest difference now comes in the form of experience and improvement. The 2014 group of freshmen and sophomores are now juniors and seniors, and when you throw in a freshman talent like Guillory, success becomes the norm.

That was true in the indoor season, when Holder, Guillory, Hernandez, and Guster became the program’s first 1,600-meter relay to earn indoor All-America honors. And it certainly held true in the outdoor season’s opening weekend, when Kwaza, Guster, Guillory, and Hernandez broke the school record.

“We have a well-rounded group,” said UI associate head coach Clive Roberts. “There are a lot of interchangeable parts, which is something we’ve always tried to accomplish.

“Coach Woody has allowed us to go out and recruit some very talented sprinters and the right athletes to be competitive in the conference and nationally, and then the relationship is a work in progress. As their relationships improve, the times go down. Four becoming one, and one becoming a team. That allows us to be successful.”

Roberts said the competition and depth is critical if the team is going to maintain qualifying times throughout the season, and still peak when the NCAA Championships roll onto the schedule in mid-June.

“It’s such a long season, we can’t be married to just four athletes,” Roberts said. “There are so many moving parts and things happening throughout the season, so for us, it’s let get six to eight athletes ready that feel pretty comfortable with each other, so if something were to happen we could put someone else in.”

It can be a tricky puzzle fitting eight runners into a four-person relay, but Roberts’ philosophy has been well received.

“We can look to any one person and say, ‘you’re on the 4×1, you’re ready,’ and regardless of whom it is, we’re going to be running fast,” said Kwaza. “It’s cool that way.”

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